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September 27, 2006

Comments

Green Giant

Thanks for yet another great read.

I am interested to see how energy policy will be shaped with our new president.

Mark Bahner

Hi Kerry,

You write, "Regarding future energy sources -- I'm not up-to-date on fusion research, but I'm curious why you haven't mentioned next-generation fission systems to tide us over until we get a little further down the road."

I didn't mention next-generation fission systems because I don't think fission will ever achieve a substantially bigger part of the electrical generation mix--let alone the total energy mix--than it has today.

The way I look at it is this: I don't see the breeder taking off in the U.S., Europe, or Japan. So that leaves only China and India. I can see the *possibility* of that happening, but my understanding is that conventional once-through fission plants are all that is planned for at least the next few decades.

I think there's at least a 50/50 chance of (non-tokamak) fusion becoming commercial before 2050. If so, then breeders will never take off, I think. That's just my guesstimate of future trends.

Regarding you comment on photovoltaics and "break-even"...do you mean "producing more energy than used to manufacture them"? If so, I'm pretty sure that photovoltaics crossed that barrier a long time ago.

It appears your use of the term "break even" means instead, "becomes equal in price per kilowatt-hour to the cheapest electricity source" (e.g. coal, natural gas, or nuclear fission). If so, I think photovoltaics will become equal in price per kilowatt-hour with the cheapest electricity sources some time in the 2030-2050 time frame. I view that as happening mainly because photovoltaics will come down in price from their present cost of 25-30 cents per kilowatt-hour down to the cheapest sources costing 3-5 cents per kilowatt hour, rather than those cheapest sources going up in cost very much.

Best wishes,
Mark

Kerry Thompson

Mark,

I read Prometheus regularly and found a reference to this blog. I have a few semi-random comments (sorry, no joke intended).

Regarding future energy sources -- I'm not up-to-date on fusion research, but I'm curious why you haven't mentioned next-generation fission systems to tide us over until we get a little further down the road. I guess I hold something of a grudge against the folks who succeeded in getting the Integral Fast Reactor (Argonne) canceled -- had it not been for them, we would now be deploying inherently-safe zero-emission breeders running on "spent" fuel rods. That would have gotten us a couple of hundred years forward at the least. Any comments?

I'm not a big fan of photovoltaics, mainly because they're so far from break-even. Worse yet, when the government gets involved in its consumption-oriented tax credit programs, it diverts capital into venues with net loss, such as photovoltaics and ethanol. Do you foresee the day when photovoltaics will break even, and, if so, will that be due to skyrocketing energy prices or technology improvements (and won't skyrocketing energy prices also increase the cost of photovoltaics)?

And count my "aye" vote for the Robert Samuelson position.

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